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After death: a Technical guide; Dealing with Digital Assests and other Assets

Written By Sambasivarao on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 | Wednesday, November 21, 2012


When approaching the difficult task of accessing websites and online accounts, dealing with it is divided between two options: having the password or not having the password. 
  • If you have a password - you can get in 
  • If you don't have a password, but have access to an e-mail account, in most of the websites you could click on "I forgot my password" and a link will be sent by e-mail, to create a new password. Once you have created it, you can get into the website / account 
  • If you have neither a password nor access to an e-mail account, the dealings get more complicated, because they involve approaching the online services providers. Some are already set for dealing with death of clients and present clear policies and guidelines in this regard, but some are still grappling with it or have done so until recently. Twitter, for instance, published their policy only in August 2010. 
Entrustet used to have a wonderful blog, and in it a "Digital Executor Toolbox" could be found. Unfortunately, when Entrusted was purchased by SecureSafe, the blog went offline, which is a pity. It used to have useful information about how to close online accounts and delete digital assets after the user has passed away. I hope it will go online again. In the meanwhile, I have compiled a list here for your convenience. A click on each link will take you to the relevant page of the online service provider.  

International companies (Israeli companies listed below) 

"Please note: We are unable to provide login information for the account to anyone regardless of his or her relationship to the deceased."

"If an individual has passed away and you need access to the contents of his or her email account, in rare cases we may be able to provide the Gmail account content to an authorized representative of the deceased user. .... Any decision to provide the contents of a deceased user’s email will be made only after a careful review, and the application to obtain email content is a lengthy process. Before you begin, please understand that Google may be unable to provide the Gmail account content...." 

Between the time I wrote this post as a draft and print-screened this page and the time I published this post, YouTube took their policy offline. Right now there isn't an online policy regarding a deceased YouTube member's account. I've sent YouTube a query about this and will update this post once I have news. 

"The Microsoft Next of Kin process allows for the release of Hotmail contents, including all emails and their attachments, address book, and Messenger contact list, to the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated account holder and/or closure of the Hotmail account, following a short authentication process. We cannot provide you with the password to the account or change the password on the account, and we cannot transfer ownership of the account to the next of kin. Account contents are released by way of a data DVD which is shipped to you."

"To close the account of a deceased LinkedIn member you'll need to submit a Verification of Death form. Note: This form requires an email address registered to the deceased member's account. Without this important piece of information, we will not be able to address your request." 

This used to be MySpace's policy, but they updated it in July 2012: 

"We will only remove or preserve the profile of a deceased user at the request of the next of kin or at the request of the executor of the estate. Myspace will not allow access or update the log-in information for a profile for any circumstance... However, if you have access to the email account tied to the Myspace profile, you can retrieve the password by clicking www.myspace.com/auth/resetpassword". 

"In order to protect the privacy of the deceased user, we cannot provide login information for the account to anyone."

My advice is: if you have access to the Facebook account of your loved one who passed away, the first thing you should do is download a copy of it (General Account Settings > Download a copy). If someone were to notify Facebook that the account owner has passed away, Facebook will block all access to the profile and you will not be able to get in - even if you do have the password. Facebook's policy is controversial: anyone can notify that a person has passed away, not just members of his immediate family. Hence, the spouse / child / parent might suddenly find themselves with the profile turning into a deceased person's profile, without their request. Once a profile is "memorized", as they call it, only friends can see it and locate it in search results, and some of the content disappears while some of it remains - and you have no control over it. Very little information is required in order to report someone as gone: Report a Deceased Person's Profile 

Article 2:

After death: the difference between dealing with digital assets and other assets

My answer when asked the following question: "What's the difference between, for instance, opening a bedroom drawer of someone who passed away and discovering old love letters, to opening an e-mail account of someone who passed away and dealing with the e-mails in it?" 
  • A person usually has only one bedroom, with clearly visible drawers in it, so the number of drawers needed to go through can be known in advance. The space in each drawer is limited, so the approximate time needed to go through it all could be estimated. Hidden compartments are usually found only in the movies. Even if one of these drawers is locked, the key could probably be located among his belongings, or the drawer could be broken into quite easily. If not, a locksmith could be called, who could open it without being exposed to the content in it. 
  • A person could have several e-mail accounts, which will not be all clearly visible or known to you. Even if you do know of them, you will not necessarily have the passwords to access all of them. In order to break into them, a pro might be needed (say, a computer technician), which means a stranger will gain access to something very private and personal. Another possibility is that you'll find yourself at the mercy of the various e-mail providers and their policy in this matter. The space of each e-mail account could be vast - bordering on limitless - you could find yourselves faced with thousands of e-mails in each one of them.

  • Love letters could be addressed to or from an anonymous person, whom you will not be able to identify nor contact. 
  • In e-mails, the to / from fields are visible.
  • If the bedroom drawers are at the home of the deceased person, chances are there won't be any legal debate regarding whom the content of the drawers belongs to: the deceased, and therefore, you, as their rightful successor. Worst case scenario, you might have to deal with other family members who might want some of the letters you came across inside these drawers. 
  • When we're talking about the content inside e-mails, if it's a web-based e-mail service, you might find yourselves having to prove ownership of that e-mail account and having the right to access it, and the policy of the e-mail provider might not be in line with how you feel about it. In such a difficult, sensitive time, you might find yourself dealing with outsiders regarding an issue you see as very personal, an issue you feel should have been dealt with inside the family's inner circle only.
  • In the past, people (especially men) used to have a hidden stash of porn tapes / magazines in their closet or under their bed. If they had a spouse, their spouse probably knew about this private collection and therefore, could throw it away before other family members entered the home of the deceased. If he or she didn't have a spouse, a friend or a family member would have come across this horde and had to deal with a moment of awkwardness. 
  • Today, there's a pretty good chance you won't come across any printed porn magazines or porn video tapes, but you will have to deal with finding porn on the computer. There are several online guides about how to both hide the computer porn and how to get rid of it, but if the deceased didn't get a chance to learn how to do the former, you might find yourselves doing the latter.
  • Usually, a normative person has a single physical identity and a certain amount of physical assets. When you go over it after they pass away, you go through the contents of a room, an apartment or a house, sometimes also through a shed or a garage or a storeroom, but even if they used to hoard many objects, the sum of all his physical assets is limited. 
  • A person could have multiple online personas and still be a normative person. If they were active online, they could have left behind many digital and online assets which you will find difficult to follow, let alone manage. Think of the trail of digital breadcrumbs we leave behind, on top of our e-mail accounts: Picasa, Flickr, YouTube, Google Plus, Foursquare, forums, blogs, Twitter, Linkedin, Myspace... The time you'll need just to go through it all, let alone manage it (save? delete? backup?), will probably take a lot longer than going through any crowded storage room.
(Source : http://digital-era-death-eng.blogspot.com)
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